Steelers To Protect Their Interest In Wallace, But Who From & How?

During the several interviews that Pittsburgh Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has given over the course of this week, the name of wide reciver Mike Wallace continues to pop up a lot in the questioning. Wallace of course is a restricted free agent, who at worst will receive a first round tender of around $2.742 million. That tender would allow the Steelers ability to match whatever offer sheet is given by another team that wants to sign Wallace or receive a first round draft pick from that team should they decide not to, or they can\’t match it.

In one of his first interview this week, Colbert said that the Steelers have not ruled out the possibility of placing a franchise tag on Wallace, which for receivers this year is estimated to be about $9.4 million. Should a team then try to sign Wallace away, it would cost them two first round draft picks instead of the one first round picks that the first round restricted tender provides. The downside to the difference in the amounts is that the Steelers must be able to fit that amount in their salary cap until hopefully a longer term deal can be reached with Wallace, thus lowering his 2012 cap hit.

Colbert reiterated on Wednesday morning, in his interview with 105.9 The X, that the Steelers are certainly going to protect their interest in Wallace, as he has proven himself to be a Pro Bowl wide receiver that hasn\’t even reached his full potential as of yet. So who exactly are they trying to protect their interest in Wallace from? Let\’s speculate at a few teams that might take a run at Wallace if it only cost them a first round pick and a lucrative contract.

New England Patriots – The Patriots have two first round draft picks and they could use a receiver like Wallace that can stretch the field. According to the CBA it would cost the Patriots their original 31st overall pick and not their 27th overall pick, which they acquired from the New Orleans Saints. Wes Welker is an unrestricted free agent, but the Patriots should have the cap room, which is reportedly around $20 million right now, to accommodate both him and Wallace should that be their course of action. They would also still have the remaining 1st round draft pick to address other areas of needs and they own two second round draft picks as well. While it certainly could have been just lip service, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said just last season about Wallace, “He’s a big-play receiver. He’s really fast. Nobody is going to catch him, so you have to be careful about how much space he gets when he catches the ball. I think he’s improved a lot from when we played them last year, just as a football player, his patience and route technique.” Belichick also added, “He stretches the field, but he can also take a short pass and turn it into a long run, so you have to defend him from the line of scrimmage to the back of the end zone and from sideline to sideline. He’s a tough guy to match up on.” I see the Patriots as the biggest threat right now to possible make a run at Wallace if he only has a first round tender placed on him.

Cincinnati Bengals – Like the Patriots, the Bengals also have two first rounds and it would cost them their original 21st overall pick should they go after Wallace wearing a first round tender. They have plenty of cap space to go crazy in free agency should they choose to do so, and would love to pair Wallace with A.J. Green, their first round draft pick from last year. Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell are both restricted free agents and can be easily retained by the Bengals with original round low tenders and do not forget about Jordan Shipley, who will be returning from his knee injury suffered last season. Instead of the Bengals having to face Wallace twice a year, they could flip the tables and the Steelers would have to defend him instead twice a year.

San Francisco 49ers – Although they do not have two first round picks, the 49ers do have around $39 million in cap space reportedly and they sorely need a receiver that can stretch the field. The 30th overall pick that they own may be worth it to them to give up for Wallace.

Baltimore Ravens – While I personally do not see this is a legitimate possibility, a few others like Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan, from the Movin\’ the Chains radio show, do. The Ravens only have one first round draft pick and it is the 29th overall selection. The Ravens are also not currently loaded with cap space and need to allow room for a franchise tag for running back Ray Rice and a new contract for Joe Flacco in addition. They drafted wide receivers Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss last year, and even though they are likely to cut loose Lee Evans, it would surprise me if they went after Wallace. Nonetheless I listed them as a remote possibility.

Those are the few teams that I think play into the Wallace situation and although the Steelers would certainly have the right to match the offer sheet ultimately, those teams know how cap strapped the Steelers are. While there are no worries about a poison pill possibility in the new CBA, the teams with a lot of cap room could certainly front load a contract on an offer sheet that would make the first year of the contract very hard to swallow from a salary cap perspective if the Steelers were to match it. Several might think I am leaving out the Cleveland Browns and their two first round picks that they have, but they would have to surrender their 4th overall selection to sign away Wallace and I think they most certainly will not be willing to pay that price.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post and in previous post, placing the franchise tag on Wallace would certainly scare off everyone else. The problem is getting that amount of $9.4 million to fit into their cap situation until they can strike a new deal with Wallace to lower his 2012 cap hit. The best case scenario is to get Wallace signed to a new deal before they have to use any type of tag on him or tender on him, and that is likely what they are trying to feverishly do right now. Wallace and his agent know though that time is not on the Steelers side and that could possibly play big in the negotiations. Another looming problem for the Steelers could be if they somehow are able to clear enough money for the franchise tag initially, but can\’t strike a new deal with Wallace for an extended period of time. They need that cap space and need to make sure that they can get a new deal reached quickly so that Wallace does not ride out the entire 2012 season with a $9.4 million salary cap hit.

Colbert says they are certainly going to protect their interest in Wallace and I believe him. The problem is that they are slowly running out of time before the tenders and tags have to be handed out. Hopefully Omar Khan comes riding in on his black and gold horse fairly soon to save the day. Despite all of the cap cutting thus far, there is still a long ways to go. Plenty of terminations and restructures are still on the way and it might even include a surprise or two. This will be both fun and scary to watch play out.

ETA: Since I posted this on Thursday, Adam Schefter is now pretty much saying the same thing on Friday and you can watch his report that I added below.